An affectionate lesbian couple


We’re Queer Parents But Our Kids Are Pretty Heteronormative

Mar 3, 2020

The other day, I took my six-year-old stepdaughter (or "bonus-daughter," as we say in our house) to the playground.

I leashed up the dog, helped kiddo into her inflatable flamingo costume (What can I say? She’s fabulous!), and off we went.

She shed the costume and ran around before becoming quiet and philosophical. We sat down together beneath the monkey bars and played with wood chips.

Read about how a wife and a mother's life unfolded when her partner and child came out as trans — here

Finally, she said: "I wish daddy would get married to a lady and make a baby and then I could have a brother.”

My jaw dropped. This is a kid with a gay dad who would never “marry a lady.” Actually, kiddo has two dads (the daddy who helped conceive her and his partner) and two now-divorced moms (the one who conceived her and my partner).

But maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. My daughter, who is the same age and has a very similar origin story (two moms and a donor dad), had been asking me similar questions.

Several times she’s even asked if I’d ever been married to her donor dad, who now lives in the United States.

"I wish daddy would get married to a lady and make a baby and then I could have a brother.”

“No, honey,” I’d explain. “Mommy and I were together, remember? We wanted a baby and your dad helped us make you.”

Each time, she’d nod and go back to playing with her Barbies or drawing princesses, as if she understood perfectly. A few weeks later, she’d ask again. Kiddo was even the flower girl at her other mom’s wedding, which makes it all the more puzzling.

Both girls have been aware of their family origins since they were tiny. Both have been told, many different times and in many different ways, that it takes a sperm and an egg to make a baby, but not necessarily a husband and wife. The prevailing wisdom for queer families is much the same as it is with adoptive families: it’s best to tell kids their origin stories early to normalize it and avoid revealing a secret later. Maybe because of this, our kids proudly and happily tell others about their families all the time — and they’ve been well-received by their communities.

My partner and I suspect that both girls’ confusion began to kick in sometime in kindergarten, when they were exposed to more kids with hetero nuclear families. Their teachers did units on families and students brought family photos to school. Sure, they read books about family diversity to include the kids with same-sex parents, adoptive parents, single moms or other less-common family structures. But when every other book in the classroom features hetero, two-parent families and every other kid has a mom and dad, what’s a kid to think?

Children’s media isn’t helping any. Kid characters almost always have a mom and a dad (even if they’re dead, à la Frozen and a long list of other Disney movies). There’s been some representation of same-sex families and LGBTQ folks in recent years, but not very much. It’s the same story with kid toys and puzzles, too, of course.

This mother writes passionately about the importance of black representation in TV and movies for her child. Read it here

The people in my kids’ daily lives also reinforce our society’s hetero norms — even well-meaning teachers, daycare staff, relatives and friends. You’re not going to hear a caregiver suggest that a group of kiddos playing house make a family with two moms or dads. And while adults sometimes joke about boys and girls having little crushes on each other, no one's joking about same-gender crushes. 

So what does a queer parent do? In our house, we seek out books with queer families and read them. We remind them about other kids of same-sex parents that we know. We have conversation upon conversation to remind the kids that it’s OK to have same-sex parents (and now, bonus parents and siblings, as well).

And when we overhear the girls playing families with their dollies, we ask why the kids in their game don’t have two moms, like they do. Sometimes, the answer is, “UGH! We’re playing!” But sometimes a light bulb turns on and they’ll switch gears to make families that look like their own. We have yet to see a same-sex dolly wedding, but we’re crossing our fingers.

Article Author Caitlin Crawshaw
Caitlin Crawshaw

Read more from Caitlin here.

Since snagging her first byline in 2004, Caitlin has written for dozens of publications across North America, including Today’s Parent, Maclean’s, and the Globe and Mail. But by writing for CBC, she follows in the steps of her late maternal grandmother — who sold a story or two to CBC Radio back in the day — and fulfills a dream of her late paternal grandfather, whose radio plays were ever-so-politely rejected by CBC in the 1950s. Caitlin holds an MFA in creative writing from UBC and lives in Edmonton with her family.

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